How to Start an Argument

Do you ever argue with God? I do. But not as often as I’d like, and probably not as often as I should.

Now before you send out a posse to come and string me up, let me explain what I mean—and what I don’t. I am not talking about quarreling, fighting with, or “taking on” God. By no means am I suggesting that we challenge God’s sovereign authority or arrogantly suppose that we would do a better job of ruling the universe than He does.

What I am talking about is making a solid case for what we are asking God to do. Instead of just handing God a bunch of requests, as if we were submitting them to a giant suggestion box in the sky, I’m suggesting that we employ what Timothy Keller calls “thoughtful reasoning” to back up our prayer requests*

This is not a new idea. From the very beginning of the Book we have examples of this.

  • When Abraham argued for God to show mercy to Sodom, he made his case based on the God’s character: “Far be it from you to do such a thing–to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25).
  • In Exodus, we find Moses arguing for mercy based on God’s reputation: “‘Lord,’ he said, ‘why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, “It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth”? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people’” (Exodus 32:11-12).
  • In one of his psalms, David made his case based on God’s glory and praise: “To the Lord I cried for mercy: ‘What is gained if I am silenced, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it proclaim your faithfulness? Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me; Lord, be my help’” (Psalm 30:8-10).
  • Hannah made a bargain with God, if you will. If God would give her a son, she would give that son back to God to live and serve Him all his days (1 Samuel 1:11).
  • When Paul prayed, his appeals were often made on the basis of God’s ultimate purposes. He prayed that the Philippians’ love would abound more and more so that they would “be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:10-11).

Do you see what I mean? These prayer heavyweights didn’t just drop their prayer into God’s inbox—they made a vigorous appeal based on God’s truth, purposes, and character. They didn’t ask for what they wanted simply because they wanted it. They made a reasoned, thoughtful request with God’s heart firmly in view.

How can we do this? First, we do some soul-searching to be sure that our request is in line with God’s word and character. If it’s a matter Scripture doesn’t directly address, then we should at least ensure that our request does not run counter in any way to who God is and what He does.

Next, we should ponder outcomes. What will happen if God answers our request? How will He be honored? How will His purposes be fulfilled? How will the answer cause us or the people we pray for to be more like Jesus?

Finally, if there is Scripture that relates to our request, we should find it and use it as we take the matter to God—kind of like the “Exhibit A” in our argument before God.

Job was a firm believer in this kind of praying. In Job 23:3-7, he said, “If only I knew where to find God, I would go to his court. I would lay out my case and present my arguments. Then I would listen to his reply and understand what he says to me. .. He would give me a fair hearing. Honest people can reason with him.”

I’m curious—how practiced are all of you, my readers, at arguing or reasoning with God? What difference has this practice made in how you pray, how God responds, and your relationship with Him? I’d love to hear from you. Let’s learn from each other.

*Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, page 229.

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Perfect Timing

I try to be extremely cautious about making one person’s experience with God a prescription for someone else. It’s true that Joshua marched around Jericho seven times and the walls fell down—but that doesn’t mean the same thing will happen if I muster an army for a week-long march. Similarly, while I celebrate how God brought healing to another person, I also know He might not heal me in exactly the same way.

With that said up front, I want to share from personal prayer experience. God may not choose to work this way in your life—but it’s how He’s worked recently in mine. Twice.

Exhibit A: After months of praying … and praying … and praying about something very dear to me—someone I love—I had seen no change. If anything, the situation seemed to get worse. I was beyond discouraged. I knew from Scripture that what I was asking God to do was His will. Nevertheless, there came a point in time when I sensed Him asking me to surrender it to Him. To put my Isaac, as it were, on the altar.

My prayer that evening wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t fun. Actually, it was gut-wrenching. It felt sort of like a death.

But, while my heart was twisted in knots and the tears showed no signs of letting up, my phone rang. I didn’t plan to answer it—but out of habit, I looked at caller ID. To my astonishment, it was the person I’d been praying about! As we talked, I heard news that proved beyond any doubt that God was at work.

Not everything changed that night, but a lot did—most of all my hope in God. He had heard my prayers. He was at work in the situation. And He couldn’t have chosen a better time to let me know that. There’s still lots to pray about in this situation—but my confidence is restored.

Exhibit B: As if that weren’t cool enough, however, God did it again, just last night. I was feeling a heavy sense of failure in a certain area of personal ministry. All my efforts in this area seemed to accomplish nothing. Aware that the enemy was trying to take me out, I decided to spend the evening praying, asking God specifically to give me His perspective on the situation.

I don’t always pray this way, but on this occasion, I sat at my laptop and typed out my conversation with God. He led me into areas of confession and repentance. And, wouldn’t you know, just as I was dealing with God about these things, my computer beeped. I had a new Facebook message.

Yeah, I know, I probably shouldn’t be looking at Facebook while I’m praying. Especially about things as serious as I was praying about. But I did look. And what I found shocked me. Once again, the message contained news that proved to me that God was hearing me, and He was working in the situation. And at just the perfect time, He chose to encourage me, in real time, to keep praying and keep trusting.

As I said earlier, I do not mean to suggest that God will work in your life the same way He did in mine. He might. Or He may choose to meet you in an entirely different way. What I do want to suggest, however, is that you don’t give up. That you take your discouragement and defeat to Him. Whatever you’ve got, take it to Him. He hears you. He’s working in response to your prayers. And at just the right time, in just the right way, He will meet you.

Prayers for Things We Don’t Usually Pray For

Do you live with criticism? Do you find it hard to stay spiritually alert? Do you feel like you need God to reform your identity?

I can relate to all of those needs—and yet, until I “met” Christine Wyrtzen, I never really heard anyone put those needs into powerful, specific prayers.

Wyrtzen, a singer, author, and radio show host (“Daughters of Promise”) has been blogging recently with specialized prayers concerning the things I just mentioned, and quite a few others.

Here are a few of the titles of her recent posts:

Prayer for Grace, Even Deliverance

Prayer for Staying Alert

Prayer for Dissipating Faith

Prayer for the Future

Prayer to Reform My Identity

Prayer for Your Children’s School

Prayer to Discern What Is Hidden

Prayer for the One Who Lives with Criticism

So instead of sharing my own thoughts with you this week, I decided to introduce you to her. Check out her blog at http://christinewyrtzen.com/.

I hope she encourages you as much as she has encouraged me!

My Hero, Epaphras

I’ve felt a little like Epaphras this week, but just a little. I need to be a whole lot more like Epaphras, honestly.

Do you remember Epaphras? He’s the guy who started the church at Colosse. But I remember him most for what Paul says about him in one tiny verse, such a tiny reference that you could almost miss it:

“Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God” (Colossians 4:12, ESV).

My hero, Epaphras, was “always struggling” in prayer on someone else’s behalf, Paul says. Other Bible translations say he was continually “wrestling” (NIV), “laboring earnestly” (NASB), “contending” (HCSB), “striving” (ASV), or praying “intensely” (GWT).

The Greek word for what Epaphras was always doing is “agónizomai,” from which we get our English word, “agonize.” Strong’s Concordance says it means “I am struggling, striving (as in an athletic contest or warfare); I contend, as with an adversary.”

Now, I readily admit that I have a long way to go toward being an Epaphras. In spiritual warfare, I’m a long way away from a black belt. But I have stepped up the intensity of some of my intercessions this week. There are several situations, large and small, that have pressed urgently onto my radar. God has revealed to me enemy schemes of deception, hopelessness, intimidation, powerlessness, and more. These types of situations call for a fight.

It’s interesting what Epaphras strove for. He didn’t ask God to give his friends relief from difficult circumstances. No—he prayed that his Christians friends would “stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.”  And isn’t that what we all need when the enemy comes against us? To be mature in everything that Jesus has taught and modeled for us? And to be fully assured—not doubting in the slightest—that we are smack-dab in the center of God’s will?

God has strongly reminded me recently that we are in a battle. The powers of darkness are advancing—but the One who is in us is greater than all that darkness. We can win the fight—but we do have to fight. Not with human weapons and strategies, but with prayer—Epaphras-style prayer.

I want to get better at this. Are there any Epaphras’s out there? I’m listening . . .

The Art of War

When my son was in middle school, we read The Art of War together. If I’d had a daughter, we probably would have read something more girly, like Anne of the Green Gables. But I didn’t. So Ian and I read Sun Tzu’s 2,000-year-old Chinese classic instead.

I’ve never been a fan of books or movies about war. I rarely visit war museums. I’m not fond of the term “Prayer Warrior,” and if it were possible, I’d avoid spiritual warfare praying, too. (But it’s not—so stay with me, I’m getting there.)

Anyhow, we read The Art of War. And I was surprised to learn just how much an “art” war really could be. My naïve view had been that war was kind of a barroom brawl on steroids. I imagined it to be a fists-swinging, swords-flailing contest of strength and endurance. I hadn’t seen much strategy involved.

I was wrong. From Sun Tzu, I learned that war is not won by brute strength. It is won by wisdom, insight, and understanding. It’s not about muscle, it’s about wits.

Fast forward about 13 years to this week. I’ve been reading in Joshua. I shouldn’t have been surprised, I suppose, to find a pretty similar message there. Joshua was a brilliant army general. He did not rush into the enemy camp with his fists swinging. He went to the LORD of Armies for a battle plan. And it’s a good thing he did because every battle was different. Every battle required a different strategy.

At Jericho, the entire city was won with trumpets, marching, and shouting. Without even breaking a sweat, the walls of the city fell down and Jericho was taken for the Lord (Joshua 6).

Ai, however, was another matter. Although it appeared at first to be an easy win (“You don’t need to send all the troops … don’t tire the troops out by sending all of them”) it ended up in turn-tailing and death. So what did Israel do after this stunning defeat? They did what they should have done in the first place: They sought the Lord. The Lord revealed the problem and how to deal with it. Once that was taken care of, Israel returned to Ai and easily won the battle (Joshua 7-8).

At Gilgal, the Lord told Joshua exactly what to do—which wasn’t very much! The Lord threw the enemy into disorder. He sent huge hailstones on them. He even caused the sun and moon to stand still. Joshua simply had to trust God and let Him fight for them (Joshua 10).

At the Springs of Merom, the Lord gave Joshua a strategy he hadn’t used before. He was to sneak in and disable the horses and chariots. When Joshua followed the Lord’s instructions, the battle was easily won (Joshua 11).

What do Sun Tzu and Joshua have to do with me? With you? Just this: Too often we enter spiritual battles with gusto and energy, but not so much with wisdom or insight. We may shout at the enemy, call him names, and order him around. We might swing our Scripture-promise swords at him. We might shout and threaten. We sometimes shoot first and ask questions later. And often, we end up defeated.

That’s because  we don’t always do the most important thing of all—consult the LORD of Armies. Sure, we’re fighting in His name. But God is a Mastermind. He knows every one of the enemy’s vulnerable spots. He knows how to catch him by surprise. He knows the right spiritual weapons to use at precisely the perfect time. But we need to go to the war room with Him. We need to seek His strategy, in prayer, so that we enter the battle at the right time, in the right way, with the best weapons—so that He can lead the charge and bring the victory.